Friday, August 15, 2008

The Heathrow

I read a rhyme in my childhood:

Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, where have you been?
"I've been to London to look at the queen."
Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, what did you do there?
"I frightened a little mouse under her chair."

I didn't go to to London to look at the queen, but I did frighten a little mouse under a chair in the airport. Yes, mice roam around on the floor of this "great" airport, and actually in the children's play area. My impression of Heathrow was not at all what I had expected. But let's start at the beginning.

The information in my flight's on-board television screen had informed that there were showers in London. However, when we landed, it was just overcast with a freezing wind. There was no aerobridge and we had to walk over to the bus. In those 30 seconds, I wished I had worn my half sweater which was in my cabin baggage. Anyway, after I climbed the bus, I found that the driver was an elderly Sikh gentleman. Another bus passed us going in the opposite direction on the way, and it also had an Indian driver. As we entered the airport building, a cleaning lady passed us driving a golf-cart like vehicle inside the building. She was an Indian too!

Before entering Heathrow, passengers are informed that they are allowed to carry only 100ml of liquid. The security officials, however, asked us to throw away all liquid stuff that we had. We drank all our water and threw away the bottles. When we reached the security check queue, I found that passengers were asked to take off their shoes, watches and bangles and pass them through the x-ray machine separately. A lady carrying an infant had a bottle of milk. She was told to drink it a little before she was allowed to pass. After this was over, we went into the waiting area adjacent to the boarding gates and started on our four-hour long wait before the next flight.

In Kolkata airport, this waiting area is a large hall. At Heathrow, however, it is such a vast building that literally one end in not visible from the other. To be more accurate, neither end was visible from the middle. There were over 25 boarding gates in that one building alone. The place was lined with shops and benches for the waiting passengers on both sides, and a conveyor pathway for people too tired to walk, and this still leaves a path wide enough in the middle for the airport staff to move around in mini car like things. The policemen were patrolling the area on bicycles wearing fluorescent yellow jackets.

We found a place where the benches were not separated into individual seats by armrests and settled down comfortably. The kids, however, seemed more interested in running around than sleeping. As I looked around, almost everyone that was visible (no kidding, I do mean over 90% of the people whom I could see) was Indian. It almost seemed I was sitting in some indian airport with a large number of foreign tourists.

There was an array of computers on the side... it was a cybercafe. The surfing rate seemed abnormally high. It was £1 or 2€ per 10 minutes whereas I was used to a rate of £1 for 7-8 hours. My sister in law said it was still cheaper than telephone and so we sat down to surf. We saw "Surf select sites for FREE" written in large letters. It turned out that only the airport and hotel booking related sites were free. When we tried to access mail, the computer said "Insert a £1 coin into the slot". What slot? Then I noticed, the machines had no drives but just a coin slot. My sister in law purchased something to change a few dollars into GBP and we logged into Gtalk. The connection was slower than what we have in Kolkata. We somehow managed to inform my cousin in NJ that we had reached Heathrow timely before the time was up.

There was a children's play area next to this cybercafe. It was here that we saw the mouse roaming around on the ground. After we discovered it, it got scared and passed under the door of a small room which was probably used by the female airport staff for changing. Thankfully no one was inside at the time.

I decided to walk around the airport a bit. Armed with my cameras, I tried walking from one end of the building to the other, but saw that it would take too long and tire me out. Finally I settled for only a part. This Terminal 4 building is new, with the false ceiling still not installed. In place of the ceiling there is a grid and all the wiring and AC vents were visible above. After some time our flight was announced and we proceeded to board it. Once again there was no aerobridge and the wind seemed ten times worse this time and although I was wearing my half sweater, the bones seemed to be freezing with the cold. Inside the aeroplane, however, it was quite comfortable. I thought my short stay in London was over. However, there was more drama to come.

The passengers had just about settled down inside the plane when there was a shout from the last seat, "Get me off this @#$%^&* aircraft! This is a human rights violation!! You just can't do this!!! #$%#$^ $#^$ $#^$ $^$% $#^$%^%& $#%#$ @#$^&!!!!!!" Everyone turned in shock to see a tall coloured man sitting there shouting. Airport officials had him surrounded. Soon the captain and the airhostesses joined him. From his incoherent shoutings, we could understand that he had been interrogated for three days at Heathrow, and was being sent back to Newark due to lack of proper documents. The officers and the crew apologised profusely to the passengers and the stewardesses suggested that children put on their earphones. A policeman winked to us and said he will calm down once the plane was airborne. The man, however, kept shouting at the top of his voice and threatened to do nasty things if the plane took off with him on board. Everybody was disturbed.

The officers and a crew discussed something after this continued for about ten minutes and our flight was already delayed. Then suddenly, a stewardess jumped up on the seat next to the man and pinned him down. Two officers and stewards also pressed down on the shouting man. I don't know what happened then, but I think they handcuffed him and injected some tranquilizer. I don't understand why they had not done that before putting him on the aircraft. Maybe what Sherlock Holmes thought about the British Police was right after all. Anyway, the man's shouts turned to mumblings and died down a little later. By that time we were airborne and headed towards the United States of America.


  1. ha ha ha, good to feel that we have better internet connectivity out here. so, was the earphones better in this flight?

  2. sesher dikta porte porte to besh bhoy bhoy lagchhilo, jak tomar prothom barer exp. kharap noy, amader Netaji airport e mouse thakena.

  3. baba sugata! already you have experienced adventures in heathrow!

    good to know that your bags were intact there. even personalities like sachin tendulkar lost his bags in heathrow 4-5 times.

    well, keep in touch.